Vermont’s First Snowy Owl of Autumn

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Reed Webster found this Snowy Owl in Westminster, Vermont, on October 25 – our first report of the season. The Arctic has come visiting a bit early this fall. When they do come, Snowys usually begin to arrive here in New England by mid to late November.

But more Snowy Owls may be in our future. My quick look at an eBird map reveals that Snowys are already showing up elsewhere south of their breeding range (those blue and red markers on the map below). Notable is a report from the Isle of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast on August 4. August 4!

Reed returned the next day and didn’t relocate the owl. But we should all start looking for white out there. As this map suggests, a good place to begin is near big bodies of water. To get you in the mood, here’s my essay in Aeon Magazine about finding humility during last winter’s owl invasion. And thanks to Reed for his image!

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The Last Monarch

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HERE IS YOUR LAST GASP OF SUMMER. Yep, most of the Monarchs are long gone – off with the winds to Mexico. But I’ve encountered America’s favorite butterfly here in Vermont as late as October 31 and along the Maine coast as late as December 1. So keep watching.

These late southbound stragglers may never make it to wintering sites in Mexico. Nectar sources along the way become scarce this late. And weather can present an obstacle. Where they end up, we’re not entirely sure. But we now find Monarchs over-wintering and wandering in the southeastern U.S. And it seems that some are wintering farther north than ever –  life on a warming planet. (Of course, western Monarchs still winter in California.)

My two photos here came from Monhegand Island, Maine, on September 25. (I tried to get flight shots – with limited success.) Monhegan was lousy with Monarchs this year – a delightful close to a dismal season for our famous butterfly. The wintering poplulation last year plunged to its lowest levels ever recorded. We might yet see Monarchs rebound a bit. These are insects, after all, capable of big population swings.

Even so, biologists who study Monarchs say they now need the protections offered (sometimes) by the Endangered Species Act.

“Monarchs are in a deadly free fall and the threats they face are now so large in scale that Endangered Species Act protection is needed sooner rather than later, while there is still time to reverse the severe decline in the heart of their range,” said Lincoln Brower, preeminent monarch researcher and conservationist, who has been studying the species since 1954.

Read more about Monarchs from the Xerces Society, a conservation group you might consider supporting. Xerces works with passion on invertebrate protection and conservation. I’m about to renew my membership. As they like to say at Xerces, “We speak for the spineless.”

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Bob Spear (1920-2014)

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Consider everything you know about the past half-century of birdwatching in Vermont. Long before your field guides and checklists, before bird apps and atlases, before nature centers and eBird, before VINS and VCE, there was Bob Spear.

On the long, green path of Vermont’s conservation movement you will find authors and intellectuals, farmers and environmentalists, men with outsized legacies that remain with us in the wild even though the conservationists themselves are now gone: George Perkins Marsh, Zadock Thompson, James P. Taylor, and Hub Vogelmann, to name a few.

Now another great conservationist has passed. Bob Spear, bird carver, educator, and soft-spoken field naturalist, died yesterday, October 19, 2014, in the company of his friends, family and, although we weren’t there with him, the community of people whose lives he touched and changed.

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The 2014 Snow Goose Scoop

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The snows of autumn begin.

Snow geese are once again moving through Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison, Vermont. Follow the migration on my new page: THE 2014 SNOW GOOSE SCOOP.

Get the latest reports on goose counts. Read about why snow geese no longer gather in the numbers we enjoyed during the 1980s and 1990s. You’ll also find range maps, articles, and other resources on the biology and ecology of snow geese.

You’ll even find help identifying the rare Ross’s Goose among the honking blizzard of white.

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Sunrise Now

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Sunrise minutes ago from my office in downtown Montpelier, Vermont.

That's the Trinity United Methodist Church in the foreground and the First Baptist Church of Montpelier in the background. I was standing near the Unitarian Church.

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The Second Sunrise: A Final Monhegan Migration Report

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He flashed yellow like an autumn sugar maple. When he launched from the meadow, the sun rose a second time over Monhegan Island. And as we left the island Monday for a wild boat ride, this star of fall migration – a young male Yellow-headed Blackbird – was still flying sorties and issuing his kuh-duck flight calls to the departing birdwatchers.

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Hello, Yellow

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A Yellow-headed Blackbird has been traversing the skies over Monhegan Island, Maine, for the past couple of days. This westerner heads east now and then, more commonly reaching the Midwest. Occasionally one or two will land here on this small rock off Maine's midcoast.

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Dawn and Rare Birds

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SUNRISE THIS MORNING is better than any warbler on Monhegan Island. Well, except for yesterday, when I found a Connecticut Warbler on the Burnt Head trail. Other big news from a flight of birds on Wednesday was one or more Yellow-headed Blackbirds, first discovered by Steve and Jane Mirick.

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The Fog of Birding

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In the rain, wind and fog on Monhegan Island today, we studied the finer points of common birds. When the winds blow strong from the south, as they have the past two days, migrating songbirds do not come to Monhegan. No worries among the group of amiable birders I am now guiding here. We're enjoying whatever flies across our path.

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A Monhegan Fallout

Immature Peregrine Falcon / © Bryan Pfeiffer

Today on Monhegan Island the winds blew fair with birds. Peregrine Falcons gave chase and took life. In the lilacs near the Rope Shed a Nashville Warbler cavorted with a Tennessee Warbler. A flock of a dozen Baltimore Orioles paraded around the village.

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